Legally Blind Golfer Finds His Game

ACME, Mich. - Conventional wisdom suggests Dave Kelley must be a grinder. After all, the 51-year-old investment banker hit a golf ball for the first time only 15 months ago, and now he's posting scores in the 90s. Despite being legally blind.

Perhaps that's why he's been so successful. Kelley doesn't focus on the results of his efforts so much as the sheer joy of just playing golf.

"He's a happy-go-lucky kind of guy," says Terry Crick, a Grand Traverse Golf Academy PGA Lead Instructor who teaches Kelley. "He's a lot of fun to work with, and to just be around."

Kelley's story exemplifies the Grand Traverse Golf Academy's mission: Help golfers of all abilities to enjoy the game.

"Like I always tell my friends, we're never going to be pros," says Kelley. "So just go out and hit the ball and have fun. I'm just thrilled that I can go out there now and not embarrass myself."

Kelley needn't be concerned about that. "Dave is very fit and he's athletic," says Crick. "The progress he's made in such a short time is pretty impressive."

Crick, a 20-year PGA Professional who played golf at the University of Florida, had relocated to Traverse City after selling a golf course he owned in Indiana. He and Kelley became acquainted because their children attended Old Mission Elementary School together. Through mutual connections at Grand Traverse Resort and Spa, Kelley helped Crick join the teaching staff there. Then he took it a step farther.

"I'd never touched a golf club before, but I wanted to work with Terry at the Golf Academy to give golf a try." says Kelley. "I didn't have any expectations, but I discovered pretty quickly that I really liked the game."

That was April 2011. Eight months later, playing with Crick, Kelley scored five pars in one round at a course in Florida. In May, he had a par-birdie-par run beginning at No. 6 on The Bear at Grand Traverse - a notoriously challenging Jack Nicklaus design that has a 73.2 course rating and 144 slope rating from the blue tees, which Kelley was playing.

Kelley describes his impaired vision, which he has had since birth, as looking through glasses with petroleum jelly smeared over the lenses. "I can make out the ball at address," he says, "but after it leaves the tee I can't see anything."

When they first began working together, Crick gave Kelley one of his old sets of clubs. "They were forged tour irons," says Crick, laughing. "I didn't really think anything of it, because quite honestly, because of his disability, I wasn't sure Dave would be able to stick with it."

He did, and after being encouraged by Scott Hebert, the resort's Head Golf Professional and Director of Instruction, to take advantage of game-enhancement club technology, Kelley bought a new set of irons.

Crick, meanwhile, became increasingly engaged with Kelley's quest. "It was fun," Crick says, "to take on a student who had no bad habits to begin with."

Crick and Kelley tee it up together often. "We'll probably play 25 times in the next two months," says Crick, who is a big proponent of playing lessons. Crick helps Kelley get aligned to his target and makes sure his clubface is square at address. "I get him lined up and let him fire away," says Crick.

Kelley appreciates Crick's demeanor. "He's a great coach," says Kelley. "He cracks a lot of jokes, and that makes him a lot of fun to work with."

Kelley also attributes much of his improvement to Crick's use of Grand Traverse Golf Academy's Foresight GC2 Smart Camera System and Performance Simulator.

"It's a wonderful tool," says Kelley. "It tells you exactly how and why the ball behaves as it does in flight, and that helps me know what to practice. Plus, they have a 10-foot by 20-foot simulator screen, so when I stand close to that, I get a good idea of what kind of hole I'm dealing with."

The GC2 Smart Camera System is made by Foresight Sports of San Diego, a leader in the design and manufacture of golf ball and club head measurement, analysis and simulation tools. The GC2 provides a comprehensive virtual depiction of a golfer's launch conditions, shot shape and down range values - all in real time. It can be used to review shot dispersion and gap analysis of yardage from club to club.

The portable GC2 system figures prominently on the Grand Traverse practice range and at the resort's 2,000-square-foot indoor/outdoor Golf Academy. "This is an amenity no one else in Michigan has," says Hebert. "We are the only ones with this type of technology."

Kelley is one of many Grand Traverse Golf Academy students who have taken full advantage of the GC2 system and the expert PGA instructors who implement it in their programs. He consistently hits drives 250 yards or longer, which is a source of great satisfaction.

"I'm under a lot of pressure with my job," says Kelley. "I work with a personal trainer, I ski (with a guide) in the winter and I go cycling. I tried golf because I wanted something else to have fun with - plus my wife told me I needed a hobby. I didn't know I'd enjoy it so much."

That, says Crick, is the whole point. "Now he has a game he can play and enjoy for the rest of his life."


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